The Harnett County Board of Commissioners took another step towards introducing a new program aimed at enforcing school bus stop-arm violations.
Commissioners approved a request from Senior Attorney Christopher Appel on Feb. 15 to adopt an ordinance permitting the county to operate the program, which if fully implemented would be the first of its kind in North Carolina. Appel needed commissioners to initiate the ordinance and also will require a vote of support from city and towns within the county in order to enforce violations of the new program.
“The first priority is obviously getting an ordinance which will allow us to do this so we can possibly start writing that now and bring it before the board,” Appel said. “We need the other municipalities, which I believe they’re on board as well, being willing to pass a resolution to allow us to operate this within their city limits. Those will be the top priorities and we’ll go ahead and in conjunction start negotiating on the contract.”
BusPatrol, a Virginia-based company that already implemented its product in other states, approached the Harnett County Schools Board of Education in 2019 and offered its services as a way to both improve safety and bring in revenue. BusPatrol equips school buses with video technology that captures and time stamps images of vehicles passing when the stop-arm is deployed. The hardware helps flag offenders and presents its finding to local law enforcement. As part of its presentation, BusPatrol offered a 60/40 split with HCS on any funds generated through stop-arm violation prosecutions.
Enforcing any stop-arm violations raised several questions regarding the appeals process and paying for any staff that may be needed to process such cases.
HCS Superintendent Aaron Fleming previously told commissioners that the school system would reimburse the county for any personnel costs associated with the program. Appel also brought to BusPatrol the question of video ownership and whether law enforcement agencies can present it as evidence should an individual face criminal charges.
“BusPatrol maintains the record, but ownership belongs to the county,” said Appel. “If the county is OK, they would turn [video evidence] over and send a representative to testify if needed.”
Commissioner Lew Weatherspoon asked whether or not the system could be in place by the start of the 2021-22 school year in the fall. Appel said he thought it could if the county got the ball bouncing.
“I believe that’s a reasonable goal that we can do that if we went ahead and started now,” Appel said.
Stricter enforcement of stop-arm violations could create a viable revenue stream to the school system. As part of any agreement, the county would need to create an appeals board to hear any issued citations, requiring at least one full-time employee. BusPatrol founder Jean Souliere, during a presentation to commissioners in December, estimated the county could receive between $50,000 and $80,000 a month per 100 buses should it implement the program. Souliere said more than 90% of people cited pay the $250 ticket after seeing video footage.
“There are a lot of people who break the law,” said Souliere at the time. “Our goal is to reduce it from year to year. Our data tells us that you will generate revenue for the school district right away in the first year.”
Fleming told commissioners that a study conducted in 2018 found that of the 263 buses on the road that day, HCS reported 26 stop-arm violations. BusPatrol also provides new technology to buses such as updated GPS software and camera systems.
Eliot Duke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 910-230-2038.